Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Be the Cat

Miss Molly Brown sez: HOTTTTT!
Note that Molly is also maximizing surface area for optimal cooling. (One could argue that lying on a rug wouldn't help with this..but then again, one doesn't argue with cats.) Why is Molly (that's Miss Brown to you) doing this?

Because it IS hot. 103 on its way to 106 hot. Record-setting hot.

Last night, with all the scorchiness, my sweetheart and I couldn't face any form of cookery. So we--very cleverly, we thought--headed to a local pub for dinner. Where the waitress informed us that the wait for our food would be at least an hour, maybe more. Because it turned out everybody ELSE in the neighborhood had already decided the same thing and gotten there before us.


Before all of you who live in searing locales start snickering in your iced tea, consider this: you most likely have air conditioning. Most of us in Portland don't, because fifty-one weeks out of the year, we don't need it. Besides, most of us in the city live in old houses, and when you live in an old house (and I'm talking old like 1906, not 1972) installing air conditioning ranks pretty much dead last on the priority list. (At the top is "find out why the hot water in the upstairs bathtub comes out of the wall instead of the faucet," followed by two dozen items ranked in order of how loud we screeched "Oh, my GOD" when we discovered them. We old-house owners prefer to think of these things as "character." Until we scrape together enough money to fix them, after which we refer to them as "that disaster the previous owners thought was such a brilliant idea which could've electrocuted us in our sleep.")

Heat waves in Portland are kind of like snow in Portland. We get a week of each every year, more or less, and it rocks Portland's world.

Be the cat, Portland. Maximize cooling. And buck up--after all, it's bound to rain again soon.*

*weeps quietly at the thought

Sunday, July 19, 2009


I’ve been meaning to write the counterpoint blog to Writing and Leisure, and I haven’t gotten around to it because I’ve been, well...writing. Which I guess is the counterpoint right there. That is, while it’s true that writing requires room and time, what’s even more true is that writing requires—first, foremost, and always—BiC.

Butt in Chair.

Once, years ago, I was invited to attend a support group/networking meeting for women in the creative arts. The moderator went around the room and asked each of us to visualize and describe a perfect workday. One aspiring writer described her day in such wondrous detail, I’ve never forgotten it. First, she would wake up to the sound of birds singing and sunshine streaming through her gauzy white curtains. Then, after a delicious breakfast, she’d spend the day sitting under a venerable oak tree, listening to the wind and the bees; following this, a horseback ride through a meadow, capped by gathering wildflowers. She would then cook a fabulous dinner for friends and spend the evening, eating, drinking wine, telling stories, laughing and sharing. Then, at long last, she would...fall into bed.

This, she said, would be just the ticket to put her in the frame of mind necessary to create.

I never went to another meeting. I was a total newbie, but I already knew enough to realize that was two hours I could have been writing.

Frame of mind has nothing to do with it. Having the right computer software, the best computer, the most organized desk, an ergonomic desk chair, a certain allotment of hours has nothing to do with it. Even that most-oft-invoked prerequisite, inspiration, has very little to do with it.

Just about the only thing that has anything to do with writing is actually writing.

In a lovely bit of synchronicity, as I was thinking about this post I stumbled across this poem by novelist Charles Bukowski.

air and light and time and space

"–you know, I’ve either had a family, a job,
something has always been in the
but now
I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this
place, a large studio, you should see the space and
the light.
for the first time in my life I’m going to have
a place and the time to

no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your body blown
you’re going to create blind
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
back while
the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,
flood and fire.

baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
new excuses

© Charles Bukowski, Black Sparrow Press

Butt. In. Chair. Fingers on keyboard or pen or pencil or sharpened quill. Go.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

First Drafts for Dummies

Yeah, I know. I wrote a post called Writing and Leisure, and then I disappeared. But I am not in Tahiti. Not even DisneyWorld. I’ve been parked on this couch writing, and the writing goeth swimmingly, and all is right with the world. More on this later.

For now, behold: This is me writing the first draft of a new chapter.

Step One: Read previous chapter to get the flow of the story so far. Resist impulse to change “just this one word.” That way madness lies. Not to mention the rest of the day.

Step Two: Sit in rocking chair with notebook (spiral, not computer) and pen. Jot down thoughts about new chapter: setting, action, conflict, characters’ motivations, brilliant flashes of insight. If no brilliant flashes of insight, draw arrows between notes. Arrows make me feel smart.

Step Three: Go downstairs. Heat mug of milk for Ghirardelli white chocolate drink. This is a Ritual and must not be skipped under any circumstances. If we’re out of milk, whine. Get over it and pour a glass of cranberry juice instead.

Step Four: Boot up laptop. Open new document. With great efficiency, format header and page numbers. Type chapter title. Realize with small shock that now I actually have to start writing.

Step Five: Go back to chapter title and underline it.

Step Six: Get up to let dogs out.

Step Seven: Type a paragraph.

Step Eight: Delete paragraph except one phrase that’s kind of cool.

Step Nine: Delete phrase.

Step Ten: Let dogs back in.

Step Eleven: Stare at laptop screen. Decide that what I really need to do is more research. Immediate burst of happiness. Realize that happiness means that research is, in fact, the last thing I need to do. Stare at laptop screen some more.

Step Twelve: Remove cat(s) from napping position across laptop and both forearms (an attractive position to cat because arms have been so motionless as to seem completely inert.) Push away when he/they try to climb back on.

Step Thirteen: Phrase in character’s voice floats through head. Scramble after it, pin it down. If dog starts barking or phone starts ringing and concentration is lost, woe betide. WOE. That means you, Ginny.

Step Fourteen: Write next sentence. Resist impulse to immediately delete. Repeat until manage to string together approximately 1000 words. When stuck,* go check email on upstairs computer. Come right back. Resist impulse to play “just one game” of Scrabble.

Step Fifteen: Save document. Savor feelings of achievement and virtue. Proudly report word count to spouse when he gets home from work.

Writing the first draft of a new chapter, Days Two to…?
Step One: Read the previous day’s work. Delete approximately seven hundred of the thousand words.

Step Two: Drink most of hot Ghirardelli white chocolate drink. Feel marginally better.

Step Three: Repeat Steps Five through Fifteen until chapter is complete. Resist impulse to spend most of each day polishing first three pages to a high gloss while ignoring the fact that the rest of the chapter isn’t yet written. As needed, buy new tins of Ghirardelli. Try not to run out of milk.

Now that you’ve seen how to write the first draft of a chapter, the next stage is writing the first draft of an entire novel. Which you might assume would be simply repeating the above process over and over. But wait, grasshopper! Flaming eyes of danger lurk in that tall grass. Stay tuned.

*The varying levels of stuck are commonly recognized as:
Level 1: Five minutes spent checking email or wandering aimlessly through the house is enough to achieve unstickage. Writer returns promptly and happily to manuscript. Some experts believe that this is not actual stickage, but simply a pause to refresh.

Level 2: Writer cannot resist urge to play Scrabble game. Writer vows to return to manuscript after one game. Okay, two games, because the computer opponent cheated. Writer wins. Order to universe is restored. Writer smugly returns to manuscript.

Level 3: Writer finishes Scrabble game(s). Realizes it’s been over an hour since last checking previous novel’s ranking. Writer checks. Writer becomes surly. Writer spends an hour reading blogs and/or updating Facebook +/- Twitter. Writer reluctantly returns to manuscript.

Level 4: Writer decides checkbook must be balanced without delay.

Level 5: After balancing checkbook, writer willingly cleans bathroom and/or cat litter.

Level 6: Writer’s house is spotlessly clean. Lawn is mowed, dogs are bathed, bills are paid and this year’s tax receipts are sorted and filed. Oh look, it’s late. Time to make dinner.

Level 7: Some experts believe Level 7 stickage does not exist. (No doubt these are the same cockeyed optimists who doubt the validity of Level 1.) Among novelists, however, it is commonly believed that no one knows what happens at Level 7 because no writers so afflicted have successfully found their way back to their manuscripts. Keep a candle burning in the window for these lost souls. (Metaphorically, of course. No sense setting fire to the drapes.)